Everything you thought you knew about the origins of pizza in America might be wrong. While it’s long been a part of pizza lore that Gennaro Lombardi established Lombardi’s — the oldest known pizzeria in the United States — in New York City in 1905, new research may prove that pizza has been in New York even longer than that and that Gennaro may not have been the first baker to sell pies out of Lombardi’s now-famous storefront.
Statistician and researcher Peter Regas has spent a decade researching the history of pizza. He claims to have discovered that the New York pizza paragon was actually founded by a man named Filippo Milone seven years before Lombardi’s claims Gennaro Lombardi established it.
Regas made his discovery by sifting through Italian-language newspapers from the early 1900s. In them, he found advertisements for Filippo Milone-owned pizzeras such as Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba from 1903, and came to believe that Milone helped to open a pizzeria at the same address as the iconic Lombardi’s in 1898. Lombardi’s is still likely the oldest extant pizzeria in America. However, thanks to Milone, its history and the history of other pizza parlors may turn out to be much more complex.
Regas said that Milone likely had prior pizzeria experience in Italy and seems to have established at least six pizzerias in the Big Apple, including the New York pizza staple John’s of Bleecker Street as well as a now-closed Brooklyn pizzeria called Pop’s.
“It seems likely that [Milone] was operating pizzerias in Naples before coming to America,” he told the publication, also indicating that there may have been other pizzaiolos active in New York at an earlier date than previously thought. “They had experience in Naples and came with knowledge and experience and a little bit of confidence that this product would be successful.”
However, he doesn’t want to discredit Lombardi’s pizza legacy. “Gennaro Lombardi was and remains a key early figure in the history of pizza in the U.S.A. Understandably my research is a dramatic change in their origin story. But if anything it makes Lombardi’s a more historic pizzeria,” Regas told Food and Wine.
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